On Tuesday, Jeb Bush ventured abroad for the first time as a de facto presidential candidate. He began his tour in Berlin, which was a mistake.
First, going to Berlin triggered comparisons with the euphoric, 200,000-person greeting the city gave candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Second, and interconnectedly, it triggered stories about how little Germans like the Bush family. But third, and most importantly, going to Europe is boring. And boring is the thing Jeb can least afford to be.
Jeb’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s too moderate. It’s that his candidacy evokes so little passion. While many rich Republicans feel loyal to the Bush family, few ordinary Republicans feel inspired by the prospect of electing a third Bush, especially since they don’t have particularly fond memories of the first two. In addition, Jeb lacks charisma. He’s among the worst public speakers in the GOP field.
Well-funded, establishment-backed candidates who evoke little passion can win presidential nominations. Think about Walter Mondale in 1984, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, or Mitt Romney in 2012. But they need opponents who either can’t raise enough money to compete or exhibit some deficiency that causes them to flame out. That could still happen this year. Right now, however, Bush faces at least two competitors—Marco Rubio and Scott Walker—who are raising substantial sums and show no signs of imploding. And both men—Rubio because of his immigrant success story and personal charisma, and Walker because of the ferocity of his battles with the left—energize grassroots Republicans in a way that Bush does not.